Hong Kong Bars Human Rights Watch Head

Decision Spotlights Vanishing Freedoms Under Beijing Pressure 

(Hong Kong) Hong Kong authorities denied Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, entry to Hong Kong, where he had planned to launch the organization’s World Report 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. The report’s lead essay will highlight the Chinese government’s intensifying assault on the international human rights system. Immigration authorities told Roth, a US citizen, that he could not enter when he landed at Hong Kong International Airport on January 12, 2020 but gave no reason.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Roth said. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Human Rights Watch was scheduled to release its 652-page World Report 2020 at a news conference on January 15. In the report, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. Roth’s introductory essay, which each year highlights a major human rights theme, warns that the Chinese government is carrying out an intensive attack on the global system for enforcing human rights. He will now launch the report at a news conference on January 14 at the United Nations in New York.

Roth had visited Hong Kong numerous times in the past, including to release a Human Rights Watch report on gender discrimination in the Chinese job market in April 2018.

On December 2, 2019, a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official threatened to impose unspecified “sanctions” against Human Rights Watch and several US-based pro-democracy organizations. Neither Beijing nor Hong Kong authorities have since provided further details.

Hong Kong immigration authorities have denied access to the city to visitors critical of the mainland and Hong Kong governments, including a US photographer who documented Hong Kong protests in January 2020, US academic Dan Garrett in September 2019, US-based exiled Tiananmen leader Feng Congde in June 2019, and United Kingdom-based founder of Hong Kong Watch Benedict Rogers in October 2017.

“This disappointing action is yet another sign that Beijing is tightening its oppressive grip on Hong Kong and further restricting the limited freedom Hong Kong people enjoy under ‘one country, two systems,’” Roth said. “Concerned governments should take a firm stand against China’s creeping repression that massive numbers of people have protested against for months.”

The international human rights system has for over 70 years guaranteed millions of people around the world fundamental rights and freedoms, including independent media that hold those in power to account, fair legal systems, education and health care, and access to clean water and air, among others. These rights are increasingly at jeopardy as Beijing seeks to broaden its repression globally. And people across China who want the right to live freely and in dignity are confronting the most severe repression in decades under President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.

“My denial of entry pales in comparison to the harassment that Chinese activists routinely endure - jail, torture, and enforced disappearance simply for trying to secure basic rights for their fellow citizens,” Roth said. “But China’s efforts to interfere with the work of international groups like Human Rights Watch is a form of global censorship that governments should resist before it’s too late.”

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